Unit 11.2

Third Conditional

Syntax

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Introduction

A conditional sentence is usually composed by two parts: the if-clause (or conditional clause) that expresses the condition, and the main clause that expresses the consequence of that condition.

We use the third conditional to talk about situations that didn’t happen in the past and the supposed results cannot occur anymore.

Form

The third conditional is a sentence created by two clauses, the if-clause (we can start the clause with if or when) and the main clause.

We use the past perfect in the if-clause (although we are talking about a future condition), and the past conditional (would have + past participle) in the main clause.

The order of the sentences doesn’t change the meaning, therefore there are two ways of forming these expressions:

IF-CLAUSE (CONDITION) (,) MAIN CLAUSE (CONSEQUENCE)
If + past perfect , would have + past participle

or

MAIN CLAUSE (CONSEQUENCE) IF-CLAUSE (CONDITION)
would have + past participle If + past perfect

{See Simple Past, A1 Level and Would: Modals of Ability, A1 Level}.

Example

  1. Non-existent unchangeable past situations
    • If I had changed my mind, we could have met them.
    • We could have met them, if I had changed my mind.
    • They could have become priest, if they had studied religion.
  2. Non-existent probable past actions
    • If she had lost weight, she would have fit in her summer clothes.
    • She would have fit in her summer clothes, if she had lost weight.
    • If they had robbed the corner shop, they would have gone to prison.

Use

We use the third conditional to talk about:

  1. Situations that did not happen in the past, and so cannot change;
  2. Situations that could have happened in the past and that did not happen.

NOTE: The order of the sentences doesn’t change the meaning.

Summary

A conditional sentence is usually composed of two parts: the if-clause (or conditional clause) that expresses the condition, and the main clause that expresses the consequence of that condition.

We use a third conditional to talk about situations that for some reason didn’t happen in the past and the supposed results cannot occur anymore in the present.

The structure is:

We start with the word if followed by a past perfect clause, a comma and a clause with would have and a past participle. We can also start with the clause with would have and a past participle followed by the word if followed by a past perfect clause (we don’t use a comma here).

For example:
If I had known we needed groceries, I would have gone shopping.” / “I would have gone shopping if I had known we needed groceries.” = I did not know we needed groceries, otherwise I would have gone. It happened in the past.
♦ If I knew we needed groceries, would go shopping.” = If we use the second conditional, the sentence means that I don’t know if we need groceries, otherwise I would go. We talk about a future situation that is unlikely to happen.

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.

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